Chavez Ramps Up Efforts to Silence Critics

Washington

Freedom House today condemned ongoing efforts by the Venezuelan government to bring criminal charges against the owners of Globovision, the only remaining independent television station in the country.  Freedom House called the continuing persecution of the station’s ownership a transparent effort to silence one of the few remaining voices that are willing to criticize the policies of President Hugo Chavez in advance of upcoming parliamentary elections.
 
Two major shareholders in the private television station have recently come under pressure from the Chavez administration.  Co-owner Guillermo Zuloaga was forced to flee the country to avoid arrest on charges many believe to have been fabricated by the government.  Additionally, the government took over the bank of another shareholder, Nelson Mezerhane, and threatened to seize Mezerhane’s Globovision shares as part of the bank takeover.  Currently in Florida, Mezerhane cannot return to Venezuela without fear of arrest. 
 
“President Chavez’s denial that these actions are politically motivated would be more credible if not for his systematic efforts over the last decade to close the space for independent voices, particularly the voices of those who oppose his policies,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “Chavez’s continued intolerance for criticism only serves to further weaken what little is left of Venezuela’s democratic credentials.”  
 
Frank La Rue, special rapporteur at the United Nations for freedom of expression, denounced the “harassment” of Zuloaga and said that the arrest warrant was “politically motivated, aimed solely at silencing Zuloaga.”
 
Reports of crack-downs on independent media have continually plagued Venezuela during the Chavez administration but have increased in intensity as the opposition prepares for parliamentary elections in September.  Venezuela dropped two points this year in Freedom of the Press due to increased violence against journalists and the closing of more than 30 radio and television stations under the controversial Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.
 
Venezuela is ranked Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010 and Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties.
 
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